Pasadena is America’s most suburban suburb of suburbs. We don’t need to verify that statement with facts, it just feels right.
And, like most suburbs, Pasadena is not traditionally known for its vibrant restaurant scene. Sure, there have always been the neighborhood go-tos and local standbys, but food that’s truly worth the journey? Not so much.
Times are changing, though. The culinary action in the old ’Dena is picking up. Should you find yourself on this side of town, or should you (gasp) make your way out here intentionally, you’ll find a plethora of good new options, from legit Japanese ramen to upscale California food. We’ve thrown some local classics on the list as well, because there’s little point in having a Pasadena native (yup, me) write this otherwise. Once you or your friends start having second children, you’ll find this guide real handy, real quick.
Unequivocally the best restaurant in Pasadena. The first time we ate here, it was a revelation—a restaurant that could stand up anywhere, smack dab in the heart of the tourist-trappy parts of Old Town. Get all the pastas, close your eyes, and you could easily be in Brooklyn or San Francisco.
The most fun all-around night out in town. Sure, it’s “just” a steakhouse, but it’s also a damned good one. The cocktails are potent, the apps and sides are exactly what you want them to be, and the steaks are cooked to temperature. The Grand Marnier soufflé is particularly magical.
Pastries and sandwiches on bread that’s about two notches better than it needs to be. The egg salad is appropriately legendary - five eggs perfectly seasoned, stacked open-face on a nice chewy dough (we recommend rosemary). A filling and delicious lunch.
The newest hot Japanese ramen import to sport a giant line. Sure, the crowd will move on to the next one in months (weeks?), but this is where it’s at right now.
The rare gelateria where the flavors taste like concentrated, intensified versions of the underlying ingredients. The pistachio tastes like someone crushed the nuts and infused them into pistachio milk, and then froze the result. In other words: it’s good.
Salted caramel and honey lavender at their absolute finest. Dare we say a notch above Bulgarini? We dare.
Shiny! Expensive! Adults! At present, it’s operating as a steakhouse, but over the last several years The Royce has had a rotating cast of famous chefs serving Michelin-quality meals to the city’s most stuffy visitors. Not really a local’s spot, but good to have in your back pocket in case you’re giving dinner picks to a visiting railroad baron.
There’s only one reason to go: cornflake-encrusted French toast. Sure, they serve eggs and things, but trust us. Get the French toast.
Simple, good Thai-Vietnamese food. Get the steak salad and pumpkin curry.
Appropriately austere and neat, as really good sushi usually is. The omakase won’t stand up to $300 versions, but if you’re consuming those regularly, you’re not reading this article.
The kind of ladies-who-lunch restaurant that only an old-money area like Pasadena can deliver. The salads and sandwiches are all excellent, with recipes that have been honed over decades. And it shows. The front patio is as see-and-be-seen as Pasadena gets, which may not be saying much.
Capital-C Classic. Fancy American food, in a nice space filled with a smattering of older people and families. Pasadena in a nutshell.
A reasonable Basque restaurant in Old Town. While others have had better experiences than we have, this is your go-to for tapas.
Sometimes you just want a staggering quantity of meat stuffed between two slices of the bread of your choice. Most people would call this a “deli,” but in California, apparently, we call it a “sandwich company.” Sounds more startup-y, no doubt sending the nearby Caltech kids into empassioned frenzies.
A good spot for sweet and savory Middle Eastern and Eastern European pastries, including made-to-order Georgian khachapuri (pictured).
Phase 1 in the plan to take over Los Angeles with cute little bags of flavored marshmallows and caramel popcorn.
From the same people as Little Flower, phase 2 in the plan. This time, with more baked goods, and actual space to eat sandwiches and drink fancy coffee.
Oh, you didn’t know that one of the most ubiquitous mall food-court chains in America got started as a full-sized restaurant in Pasadena? Good news: the “Inn” edition is far superior to “Express.” We recommend Moo Shu Pork, Sweet & Pungent Shrimp, Braised String Beans, and a fruity Mai Tai.
We had to throw the neighborhood shawarma and falafel shop on here, if only because we ate here twice a week all throughout high school. Get the chicken shawarma with garlic paste, and say hi to the owners for us.